NA-F2000: Pacific: Buttonwillow rounds 9, 10 notes

Podlesni and Lombardi Share Spoils For Van Diemen at Buttonwillow Buttonwillow, Calif. (September 4, 2005) -- A pair of typically action-packed rounds of the Pacific F2000 Championship Presented by Mickey Thompson Tires/Cooper Tire this...

Podlesni and Lombardi Share Spoils For Van Diemen at Buttonwillow

Buttonwillow, Calif. (September 4, 2005) -- A pair of typically action-packed rounds of the Pacific F2000 Championship Presented by Mickey Thompson Tires/Cooper Tire this weekend at Buttonwillow Raceway Park saw 17-year-old rookie Robert Podlesni and veteran John Lombardo Jr. share the victory spoils, while a pair of top-five finishes enabled another 17-year-old, J.R. Hildebrand, to snatch the championship points lead by a slender four-point margin over PR1 Motorsports teammate Mike Forest.

Podlesni, from Thousand Oaks, Calif., was most definitely the class of the field around the challenging, 2.914-mile road course. He qualified Dave Freitas Racing's #84 Van Diemen RF03 solidly on the pole for both races, held in blistering Central Valley heat, and led convincingly from wire to wire in Round 9 on Saturday afternoon.

"It was the best race of my life," said an ecstatic Podlesni after earning his first-ever victory, taking the checkered flag more than four seconds clear of Forest. "The last few laps, I just tried to conserve my tires for tomorrow and keep a distance between myself and Mike.

"I really want to thank Dave Freitas Racing, Van Diemen and Lucas Oil," continued Podlesni. "They've made it possible for me to be here."

A first-corner fracas saw outside front row qualifier Hildebrand, from Sausalito, Calif., slide wide onto the dirt and fall almost to the back of the pack. Meanwhile, a sensational start enabled Chris Hundley, from North Hollywood, to vault from fifth on the grid to second. But it didn't last for long. A few corners later, Hundley lost control of his #31 The Limousine Connection/Napa Auto Parts/P-1 Racing Van Diemen RF05 at the top of Magic Mountain and spun wildly through the dirt.

Podlesni took advantage of the various excursions to build an impressive advantage. Forest, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, emerged in second with his #8 Dynacor/Miracle Sealants/Earth Water Mygale SJ04, chased by Lombardo, from Brea, Calif., in the #30 NAPA Auto Parts/Valvoline/Denso/P-1 Racing Van Diemen RF02.

On three occasions Lombardo drafted alongside his rival on the long back straightaway, but each time Forest proved up to the challenge, braking a little deeper and just managing to maintain his advantage.

Todd MacNaughton, from Hawaii, drove a heady race in his #70 GoTo Construction/BWM Engineering Van Diemen to finish fourth, followed by the recovering early spinners Hildebrand (#66 Jim Russell Racing School/Spy Optic Mygale SJ04) and Hundley.

Sunday's race was even more fraught. Podlesni again was the man to beat, and once more he made an exemplary start to lead into the first corner. PR1 Mygale teammates Hildebrand and Forest slotted into second and third, although Forest took full advantage of the draft on the back straightaway to wrest away second place on the very fast entry to the Lost Hills section.

Forest immediately set his sights on Podlesni, and when the leader made a slight slip coming onto the front straightaway, Forest took his opportunity, diving to the inside under braking for Turn One.

But a momentary locking of his rear brakes upset Forest's equilibrium and caused him to spin...directly into Podlesni's path.

"I messed up and I dropped two wheels off [the road at the previous corner]," related Podlesni, "so Mike had a run on me. I knew he was going to go past, so I backed out, but then he lost it right in front of me."

Both youngsters continued, but Podlesni was forced to retire to the pits shortly afterward with suspension damage. Forest limped home in ninth with a severely overheated engine, courtesy of a holed radiator.

Hildebrand gratefully took over the lead, but Lombardo was soon snapping at his gearbox, anxiously looking for a way past.

Veteran Les Phillips, from Bakersfield, Calif., moved up to take third place in his #89 Swiss Implants Mygale, until Mark Peller, from Huntington Beach, Calif., found a way past at the end of the back straightaway on Lap 8. Two corners later, both Phillips and MacNaughton were out after an attempted pass by the Hawaiian went awry.

After a full-course caution to remove the stricken cars, some confusion at the restart momentarily caught Hildebrand off guard. Lombardo took full advantage, pouncing through under braking for Turn One.

"I wasn't sure whether it was going green or not," admitted Lombardo, "but I told myself that when I picked up the throttle at the beginning of the straight, I wasn't going to lift until [the officials] decided what they were going to do. So I had a good run on J.R."

The pass caused Hildebrand to lose momentum through Turn One, whereupon a close-following Peller (#33 Van Diemen RF03) was unable to avoid making smart contact with the youngster's Mygale. Again, both continued, albeit with some damage to their respective front and rear wings. Farther around the lap, Peller, after losing a couple of positions on the straightaway, was caught up in another incident, this time with Al Salvo, who had charged gamely from 13th to fourth in his Miracle Sealants Mygale.

Foutch, meanwhile, also had drafted past the unfortunate Peller, and when the damage to the Boeing engineer's car caused him to crash heavily, another full-course caution was necessitated. Unfortunately, the 30-minute time slot expired before the race could be resumed, leaving Lombardo to claim the victory spoils ahead of Hildebrand and Foutch (#6 BWM Engineering Van Diemen), who drove well after qualifying a lowly 11th.

"You always prefer to finish under green-flag conditions, but I'm not complaining," said Lombardo after scoring an overdue first victory of the year.

The final two races of the season also will be held at Buttonwillow, albeit on an entirely different track configuration, on September 24/25.

Results from Round 9:
1. Robert Podlesni (Van Diemen RF03); 2. Mike Forest (Mygale SJ04); 3. John Lombardo Jr. (Van Diemen RF02); 4. Todd MacNaughton (Van Diemen RF02); 5. J.R. Hildebrand (Mygale SJ04); 6. Chris Hundley (Van Diemen RF05); 7. Les Phillips (Mygale SJ05); 8. Mark Peller (Van Diemen RF01); 9. Tim Harris (Mygale SJ05); 10. Peter Hastrup (Van Diemen RF02); 11. Peter Hansel (Van Diemen RF02); 12. Shaun Modisette (Van Diemen RF02), -1 lap, accident; 13. Bob Negron (Van Diemen RF99), -6 laps, accident damage; 14. Scott Foutch (Van Diemen RF03), -16 laps, accident damage; 15. Al Salvo (Mygale SJ04), -17 laps, accident; DNS Dennis Goughary (Carbir DS3-Elite/Pinto), engine.

Results from Round 10:
1. Lombardo Jr.; 2. Hildebrand; 3. Foutch; 4. Hastrup; 5. Modisette; 6. Negron; 7. Hansel; 8. Harris; 9. Forest; 10. Salvo, -1 lap; 11. Peller, -2 laps, accident; 12. Phillips, -8 laps, accident; 13. MacNaughton, -8 laps, accident; 14. Podlesni, -8 laps, accident damage; 15. Hundley, -13 laps, clutch; DNS Goughary.

Championship positions (after 10 of 12 races): 1. Hildebrand, 170; 2. Forest, 166; 3. Lombardo, 91; 4. Podlesni, 88; 5. Harris, 71; 6. Foutch, 44; 7. Brad Jaeger (Mygale SJ04), 43; 8. Ian Lacy (Van Diemen RF03), 42; 9. Negron, 38; 10. Clark Cambern (Van Diemen/Mygale), 32; etc.

-js-

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